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Second Year of Layoffs Leave Teachers In Limbo

Above: Cameron Brown warms up the University City High School band before a performance. Brown is taking a teaching job in Colorado after two consecutive years of being laid off.

— As the school year is winding down for San Diego city schools, hundreds of laid-off teachers are facing a second summer of joblessness. Some will be rehired to replace retirees or teachers on leave. More could be rehired if the union agrees to concessions. Some educators on the pink slip merry-go-round say the uncertainty isn’t any easier the second time around.

One of those educators is Cameron Brown. On a recent afternoon Brown's band class at University City High School was practicing some of the pieces they’ll play at graduation.

Aired 6/8/12 on KPBS News.

Hundreds of San Diego Unified teachers are facing a second summer of unemployment, forcing many to put their lives on hold.

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2011 Teacher Layoffs

2011 Teacher Layoffs

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2012 Teacher Layoffs

2012 Teacher Layoffs

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Once the practicing was done they continued a conversation that started the night before. That’s when Brown told band members he’ll be leaving San Diego this summer to take a job in Colorado.

"So, did you only get job offers in Colorado or were there no other options in California?" one student asked.

Brown explained that most California school districts have at least frozen hiring - the rest are laying teachers off.

Brown was one of the more than 1,500 San Diego Unified teachers who got final layoff notices at the end of May. He’s gotten a notice of possible layoff every March for the last four years. This is the second year he’ll be unemployed when school ends.

Lots of laid off teachers are hoping this year will be like last years when most teachers were rehired by the fall. Brown isn’t optimistic that’ll be the case, and as his family’s sole breadwinner he isn’t willing to hold out to see if he’s wrong.

“It’s going to happen again next year and the year after that and the year after that," he said. "And I can’t justify that – going home to my wife every March 15th and saying, ‘yup, again.’ So, other places with lower cost of living and more secure jobs in education is really where we need to be right now.”

The students have been understanding and supportive of his decision. But many echoed Senior Bryant Fiesta’s reaction to the news.

“I was very disappointed because we just got him this year and he really helped the music program – he had a lot of ideas," he said. "He was talking about building up this program into a big band that’s really respectable and we started that this year and we got a lot of awards.”

It’s hard to maintain that kind of momentum with the threat of layoff looming every year.

“The affect that this has on teachers like me – especially the ones that are very passionate and driven – is that it just, it takes the life out of you,” Brown said.

Brown is moving his life to Colorado but many teachers like him are putting parts of their lives on hold.

Arlene Tenghal is a fourth grade teacher at Miramar Ranch Elementary School.

“I got rid of my house last year because the payments were huge and I didn’t know," she said, meaning she didn't know if she'd get hired back in the fall. "So I got rid of the house. We sold it. This year we need to move out of where we live because we’re renting. But I don’t know if I can do that because I don’t know if I’m going to have a job – so – we’re five of us living a two bedroom apartment.”

Moving to a third residence in less than three years isn't the hardest part, Tenghal said. The hardest part for her is the back and forth - being laid off, having the union say the district laid off too many people, knowing that some people will get hired back to fill in for teachers who decide to retire or take leaves of absence.

She knows that the district is trying to balance it's budget. But, "I feel like I'm being toyed with," she said.

Jessica Brodzki teaches first grade at Porter Elementary. Over her four years with the district, a combination of layoffs and temporary contracts mean she has been unemployed every summer. But familiarity doesn’t make her situation easier to cope.

“I don't realize it until the summertime - I feel on the verge of a panic attack," she said. "And just not knowing, I can't go back to school to finish my masters. I'm a few classes from getting my actual masters degree because I can't afford to go to school and if I go back to school I don't get unemployment for those few weeks.”

School district officials have said it’ll take concessions from the teachers union to rehire laid off teachers this year because more funding from the state to narrow its $122 million budget gap is unlikely. Some of their proposals include continuing a week of furlough days set to end next fall, limiting employees’ health coverage options or forgoing scheduled raises.

The union started discussing the district’s budget with school officials just a few weeks ago and began a survey of its members about whether they support considering any concessions last Friday.

Brodzki is guardedly optimistic that this year her more senior colleagues will want smaller class sizes more than they want bigger raises or restored furlough days.

“More teachers are getting involved, going to the rallies and you know, being a little more supportive or maybe more willing to give up a few more furlough days," she said, "but, now that it’s actually affecting them.”

Even if the district and the union reach a cost-saving agreement, that wouldn’t put an end to the uncertainty laid off teachers are facing. There's no guarantee the positions they held this year would be waiting for them. The jobs left open from layoffs will be posted on Monday and the district’s remaining teachers will start applying for them.

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